While not really a new idea, content marketing has become one of the newer buzzwords in marketing. It is often positioned as a remedy to traditional SEO tactics that are now discouraged (if not punished) by the search engines, and it has become a pillar of internet marketing. But, the digital world is rapidly changing, and content marketers will need not only to keep up, but adapt.
Specifically, the changes I’m referring to are the rapid evolution and convergence of search, social and mobile, especially as implemented in technologies such as Google Now and Siri. In the title of the post I’ve referred to this as the “mobile information feed,” which is not a proper technical term, but nevertheless “nutshells” the phenomenon.
Historically, social media platforms have always been feeds, producing streams of information for their users. As the social networks matured they also became increasingly focused on determining relevance, not only to enhance user experience but also for ad targeting.
The search engines, and Google in particular, have also long been concerned with relevance, i.e., serving relevant ads and finding the most relevant web pages in response to a search query. But, search is becoming less about the relevance of pages, and more about the relevance of information. The distinction between explicit search queries and implicit queries means that search algorithms are not necessarily focusing on what has been typed (or spoken), but on the implicit intent. And conversational search means queries will increasingly be in natural language, not just strings of keywords. More and more, the search engines will be not be focusing on what you said, necessarily, but what you meant.
But, How Will They Know What I Meant?
Key to this will be technologies such as Google’s Knowledge Graph, which Google has said is not only concerned with knowing pages, but knowing “the entities” behind the pages, the individuals or organizations that have produced the content. And, not just who they are, but what they are, and what they do. More and more, Google’s Knowledge Graph will know about who and what you are in the real world, not just the online “avatar” that you’ve created with websites and social media profiles. The distinction between the online world and offline world is blurring.
Services such as Google Now and Siri deliver information, not just lists of pages, and the information the gets presented in response to a specific query will be based on loads of social signals. Often, these social signals will be things which connect the online world to the offline real world, i.e., reviews, ratings, testimonials, mentions, etc. And this really takes us back to implicit vs. explicit: the info presented will not only reflect what you say about yourself explicitly, but also who and what you really are, implicitly.
Indeed, Will Critchlow (CEO of Distilled) recently said he anticipates that future search updates will target “bad merchants.” And, again riffing on explicit vs. implicit, when a searcher queries for the “best,” they are not looking for pages that explicitly contain the word best. They’re looking for something that is implicitly the best in it’s category, and this will be determined to a significant degree by social signals.
And, on top of all of this is the fact that Google Now increasingly will anticipate, predict what information you’ll want and when you’ll want it. Context will increasingly determine what is returned for a query, i.e., where you are, what time it is, and what you’re doing or planning to do (determined, i.e., by events you’ve put on your calendar). What happens to search at that point?
Content Marketing in the New Context: No Contest
I’m not inclined to make predictions, so the following are not predictions. Let’s call this list a partial guestimate of how content marketers will need to think as search continues to evolve.
- In an age of information feeds and cards, various social media channels will become more important for outreach, awareness and PR. Content posted via social channels will need to function in non-sales-y ways in order to get attention and engagement. And, as relevance and targeting become ever more pervasive, those doing content marketing will need to make sure ALL social media posts are keyword optimized.
- On-site content and blogs will continue to be important for customers performing research, so keyword optimization, especially long-tail keyword usage, will continue to be important for organic search on this front.
- Long-tail keywords are also likely to be important for getting you or your product served to appropriate customers, targeted by context and relevance with services like Google Now.
- Various forms of content published through various platforms and channels will inform search engines’ knowledge of who you are and what you do, so an ongoing and regular content publication schedule will be a necessity, both for freshness of content and reinforcement of “who you are”.
- If local is very important to your business, and likely it is, then your content needs to reflect your locality to give strong local signals to the search engines. Relatedly, be sure you are “local optimized” on platforms like Google+ Local, Yelp, Foursquare, etc.
- Simultaneously, various forms of third party mentions and ratings will be feeding the knowledge graph. This will stem from a broader public understanding of and experience with your brand, so make sure your keyword research informs ALL of your marketing so that crucial keywords become indelibly associated with your brand.
- Finally, coming off that last point – and this should be a given in any case – the importance of reviews and citations will mean ensuring that you have developed what has always been the foundation and starting point for any marketing plan: a quality product with great customer experience.